A Response to Bryan Chapell Part 1

[Webmaster's note: Since Pastor Lusk's response follows the shape of Dr Chapell's paper, the linked headings which follow are largely drawn directly from Chapell's own structure. For a .pdf version of this essay, please click here.]


This paper is a reply to Dr. Bryan Chapell’s response to an ongoing controversy in Reformed circles. I have taken up this task only with great reluctance because I do not wish to even give the appearance of crossing swords with great and godly leaders in the Reformed community. I have every reason to consider Dr. Chapell my superior, a true father in the faith. But I also feel a compulsion to undertake this task because of the stature of Dr. Chapell and the fact that his paper is sure to be very influential in how these matters are handled in the PCA and in the Reformed world at large. Thankfully, Dr. Chapell has provided a voice of calm and deliberative reason amidst the cacophony. His “let’s talk it over” approach is welcomed, and this is my attempt to take him up on his offer. Of course, I extend the same offer back to Dr. Chapell and to all others who would like to engage in continued discussion over these issues.

I admire the way Chapell has taken a gracious, winsome, informed, and de-politicized look the theological controversy in our midst. No doubt Chapell is pulled in many different directions, given his position and influence. He has my respect and sympathy. I can only imagine how difficult his situation is when dealing with denominational controversy. But Chapell’s work reveals true “grace under fire,” for he refuses to cave into either “side,” simply telling this or that group what they’d like to hear. He also refuses to give way to acrimonious rhetoric, instead seeking to speak thoughtfully and charitably to everyone involved. Lord willing, his helpful paper will create an environment in which fruitful, trusting discussion can take place amongst Reformed brethren. My reply to Chapell is a humble effort to carry on that discussion and keep the conversation going.

The controversy is sometimes referred to as the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) or the “Federal Vision” (FV) or “The Auburn Avenue Theology” (AAT). I’ll give my own assessment of how it should be regarded below. For the sake of the reader, I have pasted in the full text of Chapell’s paper. In the web version, quotations of Chapell are in text boxes; my comments are the main text. I have tried to limit my responses to those areas that are most important to the discussion, or where I think Chapell’s work needs most correction. Hopefully, this piece will contribute to better understanding and more fruitful conversation in the future.

The controversy in Reformed circles has been rather ugly at times . . . well, ok, it’s actually been ugly most of the time, unfortunately. In that regard, Chapell’s attempt to speak with clarity, charity, humility, and integrity is greatly appreciated by many. His style and tone are commendable. Again, I have nothing but the highest respect for Dr. Chapell, the institution and denomination he represents, and his Covenant Theological Seminary colleagues. While I will take issue with some aspects of his paper below, I hope to do so in a spirit of brotherly love, seeking to be one piece of iron sharpening another. While I will have to register some disagreements with his point of view, I whole-heartedly agree with his conclusion in the last three paragraphs. That agreement should color the way all my other comments are interpreted. In the nature of the case, negative comments will outnumber positive, but I found a great deal in Chapell’s paper to appreciate. Please keep that fact in mind.

Occasionally, I’ll speak in the plural, of what “we” believe. This isn’t quite fair to others who have been lumped in with me. In reality, I’m only speaking for myself, though I hope others who have been associated with the theological views Chapell seeks to analyze will see their own concerns reflected in my reply.

This leads to a further caveat: In this paper I have spoken (by necessity) as though there were two basic “sides” in this controversy. I dislike that language for at least two reasons:

[1] Even when Christians disagree, they should not think in terms of sides or parties. The “us-versus-them” mentality is simply inappropriate (cf. 1 Cor.1:10ff; Phil 2:1ff). We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord striving to embrace and live by God’s truth. For a vast array of reasons, we find things to disagree about. But, especially in the Reformed community, we must never allow those differences to outweigh the glorious and precious things we have in common. If it is truly possible to esteem others better than ourselves while debating their theology, we should find a way to do so.

[2] The “two sides” approach is way too simplistic. Contrary to what some have claimed, the “FV” is not some monolithic movement, nor is there an official checklist of FV beliefs. The FV is an amorphous blob, probably defined more by those who oppose it (and have therefore forced definition onto it) than by proponents themselves. Those lumped into the “FV” group do tend to share a basic set of concerns, but more than that, as friends and brothers, they share in an ongoing conversation together. Thus, it would be virtually impossible to articulate what makes someone “FV,” whether theologically or sociologically with any precision. But the same is true on the other side. Those who oppose the FV, even adamantly, often disagree amongst themselves. There is diversity all over place, making it very, very difficult to sort the issues out in a neat and tidy way. Of necessity, my paper has had to oversimplify reality for the same of communication and convenience. The reader should keep this in mind. The FV and its opponents represent a variety of subcultures within the Reformed world. This is not a binary discussion.

I did not write this response out of frustration but out of a desire to further the peace and purity of Christ’s church. There is no “boiling cauldron” underneath my response, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. I have generally made it a policy to not respond to critics of my work (or the FV generally) unless the situation necessitated it. I’m much more concerned with setting forth my positive vision for the church. But Dr. Chapell has opened the door to conversation, and as an FV person he singles out in his report, I feel it is not out of line for me to contribute an FV response to Chapell’s assessment of the situation. I am not the most intelligent, persuasive, or articulate defender of FV-type views. But, Lord willing, this response will give interested people a chance to look at the present ordeal through the eyes of a FV proponent. The view might not be what the critics were expecting to see, but I trust it an accurate representation.

My hope is to offer a reply to Chapell that moves us all further down the road towards mutual agreement, or at least mutual understanding. Some matters continue to need clarification and that has been my aim here. I want to share Chapell’s conversational humility with regard to these issues, and thus I invite response and critique of my thoughts offered here. I’m quite sure I have not spoken the last word. But I pray it will be a word on the way to where we need to go.


An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul for Friends of Covenant Theological Seminary
by Dr. Bryan Chapell,
President and Professor of Practical Theology

First, my disclaimers: I am not a New Perspective on Paul expert. A seminary president sometimes has the role of getting up to speed on an issue that has suddenly become hot in the Church, and he should make no pretense about knowing as much as the real scholars. I have needed to ask our godly faculty to help me understand these issues so that I can advise friends of Covenant Theological Seminary as to what is going on as best as I can. I do not intend for this to be a definitive research paper where every statement is documented and qualified for scholarly dissection. I also intend only to discuss the concerns that are most significant for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), knowing that the New Perspective's own interests are much broader. For the sake of fairness I have consulted various persons on both sides of these issues and asked them to review this document.

Chapell’s humility is displayed in his willingness to seek godly counsel in how to deal with these issues. I appreciate his desire to look at the controversy as it impinges directly on his denomination, with a view to discussing rather than dissecting. Of course, Chapell himself is a “real scholar” every bit as much as his fellow faculty members, so his evaluation should be carefully considered by everyone who has an interest in the present controversy. This is no off-the-cuff, shoot-from-the-hip response (which makes it rather unique among FV analyses).

I can vouch for Chapell’s desire to consult both “sides” of the controversy in crafting his report. This desire to interact first hand with proponents and detractors is admirable and shows the total absence of pretension of arrogance on his part. It might have been helpful at a few junctures if Chapell had included quotations and documentation from those he is interacting with so we would know precisely who or what he has in view (though admittedly, most folks know where to find the debated materials by now!).

Hopefully, others will follow Chapell’s dialogical model in the future. The controversy can only move towards resolution as those who disagree actually talk things over. Chapell has been very gracious in leaving the door open for further discussion.

Still, please consider this a coffee-shop explanation. . .

Great! Let me grab another cup of coffee so we can continue the conversation . . .

. . .for Christian friends who have asked my opinion of the recent hubbub that seems to be troubling some churches and presbyteries in the PCA. No doubt my thoughts are too simplistic to satisfy any real expert, but hopefully they are expressed with sufficient clarity and charity to help some dear folk know a bit of what this New Perspective is about.

Allow me to interrupt here. My major concern is found at just this point. This is my meta-criticism of Chapell’s paper, and probably my single most important complaint. How the issues are framed is of paramount importance in this controversy.

Why has Chapell identified this group with the “New Perspective on Paul”? I do not think this is a helpful or accurate way to frame things. Though I am named below as a proponent of the theology Chapell is seeking to evaluate, I do not regard myself as “New Perspective” theologian (especially if that is juxtaposed to being a “Reformed” theologian).

I am certainly influenced by men who would be regarded as “New Perspective” scholars (particularly N. T. Wright), and I admit to seeking to incorporate their best exegetical insights into my biblical and pastoral theology whenever I can (just as I seek to incorporate the best insights I can glean from other strands of Christian scholarship). But the current fracas is not going to be properly understood so long as it is couched in terms of the NPP.

Rather, the men Chapell has identified are better understood as a loosely allied “Reformed catholic” group. We are spearheading a Reformed catholic project – a project which is probably more about retrieval of past Reformed concerns than it is about anything related to the NPP. Reformed catholic distinctives may overlap with NPP distinctives, to be sure. We have a concern for the visible unity of the church, not just institutionally (in matters of doctrine, worship, polity, and structure) but organically (in how we actually treat one another and cooperate within the kingdom of Christ to accomplish ministry and mission). We have an interest in reading Scripture as a “big story” about God’s plan to redeem an international community of believers to himself (the Bible’s “meta-narrative”). And so on. But NPP is not necessarily tied to Reformed theology, or even to orthodox Christianity (as seen in the work of liberal E. P. Sanders). Those involved in the so-called FV are not overly enamored with the NPP, nor are we simply trying to put a Reformed spin on a non-Reformed theological program so we can stay within confessional boundaries.

How are we justified in viewing ourselves as “Reformed catholics”? Three reasons:

[1] The NPP is not big enough a category to cover all that's going on in the current discussion. It’s way too specialized and narrow of a movement, and way too academic. Most of the controversy at the moment revolves around issues that are not really germane to the NPP in any unique sense (e.g., sacramental efficacy; paedocommunion vis-à-vis American revivalism; covenant/election; covenant of works; finer points of Trinitarian theology; etc.). Chapell tries to squeeze way too much under the NPP heading. At times, he acknowledges that the FV/AAT must be distinguished from the NPP, but his way of titling and organizing his paper basically perpetuate the myth that they should be identified. No one currently involved in the Reformed FV/AAT discussion is a Pauline scholar, doing work in the academic circles in which the NPP is discussed and debated. As I acknowledged above, at most we’ve sought to take certain features from the NPP and incorporate them into our own version of historic Reformed theology. Perhaps those features of the NPP are not as compatible with traditional Reformed biblical theology as we think. But if so, it will take sustained argument to make that case, not mere assertions. In terms of overall influence, the people labeled FV or AAT are far, far, far more influenced by Calvin and the Westminster divines than any other sources, ancient or contemporary.

[2] Reformed catholicity has been a major theme in our writings all along. Indeed, I’m still quite surprised that this label has not picked up any momentum in the discussions as they’ve unfolded. It would seem to cover more, and exclude less, than just about any other name that’s been suggested. It seems to be an adequate umbrella to cover the whole array of issues on the table for debate. The year before Auburn Avenue hosted Wright at its pastor’s conference, it hosted a conference on the topic of “Reformed Catholicity,” featuring John Armstrong, John Frame, Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, and myself as speakers. Now, no one paid much attention to that conference, which in itself tells you something about our twisted priorities in the Reformed world. (Apparently we’re far more interested in feeding controversy than in theological and practical ways to build ecclesial unity!) But before AAPC gave the NPP a public platform (as well as one of its foremost Reformed critics – a “catholic” move in itself!), it used the label “Reformed catholic” to describe its overarching program. I think “Reformed catholic” gets more to the heart of what we're doing, and it's a comprehensive enough label to cover the whole package. Any insights we glean from the NPP (or, more specifically, Wright, since he's about the only NPP scholar we talk much about) are fitted into a Reformed framework we already possess -- not the other way around. Chapell gives the impression we’re trying to graft Reformed theology into a basic NPP structure, when, in reality, our Reformed convictions are much more basic. The NPP only provides some exegetical particulars, not the overall structure.

[3] While it is true I published a Reformed appreciation of Wright on the doctrine of justification in the Spring 2002 issue of Reformation and Revival Journal (“N. T. Wright and Reformed Theology: Friend or Foe?”), I also published an even more extensive defense and outworking of the Reformed catholic program in the Winter 2004 issue of the same journal (“An Immodest Proposal for Pursuing Peace and Purity in the Body of Christ: A Plea for Reformed Catholicity”). Moreover, those who have listened to sermons and Sunday School lectures from me and others over the last several years will note Reformed catholic emphases repeatedly brought to the fore (e.g., my two part sermon series on “Reformed Catholicity” from 1-12-03 and 1-19-03 at Auburn Avenue). I have never even spoken of the NPP in a sermon (though I plead guilty to often consulting Wright’s commentaries for exegetical help in sermon prep).

Why does this matter? In my opinion, painting the current controversy with a NPP brush casts a shadow of unnecessary and unhelpful suspicion over us. Our work does far more to retrieve lost insights from earlier generations of Reformed theologians than to propagate something altogether new and revolutionary. We’re seeking to recover and enrich the Reformed tradition, not overthrow it. The NPP label makes it look like we are NPP proponents who are seeking to hold onto to Reformed theology whenever it’s convenient. In reality, the opposite is going on: we’re thoroughly Reformed, but unafraid of appropriating NPP insights when and where we think they are consistent with the best of our Reformed heritage. Chapell – inadvertently no doubt – has made it almost impossible for us to get a fair hearing in the Reformed community because of the guilt created by association with the NPP. In short, we’re not “about” the NPP; we’re “about” classical Calvinism. Perhaps we misunderstand our own Reformed history, but whoever wants to prove that will have to deal with a lot of evidence we’ve been setting forth for the last several years (e.g., my “Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present, and Future,” much of which consists in nothing more than quotations from early Reformers). I’m certainly open to the possibility that my understanding of early Reformed sacramental theology is wrong, so this is a discussion worth having.


What Is the New Perspective on Paul?

The New Perspective on Paul is a general term referring to multiple strains of thought that have been building in England and North America for about 30 years but have caught the attention of most PCA leaders within the last five years. In broadest terms the New Perspective emphasizes the corporate nature of our salvation in distinction from the typical way many North Americans think about their salvation primarily as "a personal relationship with Jesus." The best forms of the New Perspective do not deny the personal aspects of our salvation but contend that a focus on individual blessings is more a product of Western culture than a reflection of the Apostle Paul's design for the New Testament church.

So far, so good. But it is hardly unique to the NPP to say that American culture is highly individualistic, especially as compared to ancient cultures, including ancient Hebrew culture and the culture of the early church. Many Reformed theologians emphasized the problems with American evangelicalism’s individualistic bent long before the year 2000 (5 years ago) – when this supposed NPP movement began making deep inroads into the PCA. Surely Chapell would agree that American evangelicalism has fostered too low a view of the institutional church and the corporate nature of salvation.

For an example of our communal concerns, see my essay, “God Is Not Enough.”

What we need to remember is that the Bible never divorces our corporate identity from our personal faith -- we who believe are members of the body of Christ. Still, without personal faith and repentance we cannot truly unite with Christ no matter how much we participate in the Church's corporate heritage or practices.

This is absolutely correct, and well said. I know of no one associated with the FV/AAT who would say anything different. Indeed, we’re Trinitarian: the one and the many (the corporate and the individual) are equally ultimate. Thus, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the church (WCF 25.2), nor is there any salvation whatsoever apart from a response of personal faith towards Jesus Christ. Salvation is both individual and corporate.

My guess is that we all agree on this individual/corporate dynamic. The whole question is: who has the most biblical understanding of the relationship between the individual and the corporate?


What Are the Key Names and Groups Associated with this New Perspective?

In scholarly circles the New Perspective was originally most associated with such names as Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, and James Dunn. These are not traditional Evangelicals, though they may identify themselves with some Evangelical concerns. The New Perspective has made its most important inroads into Evangelical thought through the writings of N. T. Wright. Wright is a brilliant and engaging Anglican who has written masterfully about subjects such as the resurrection and the historicity of the Gospels. But Wright has additional concerns that are stirring the Evangelical community. He argues that the early Reformers (especially Martin Luther), though they may have advanced correct theology, wrongly read Paul in the light of their conflict with Roman Catholicism rather than in the context of the Apostle's own setting and concerns.

Wright is brilliant, as a theologian and communicator. But his concerns here are not to discredit the Reformers, whom he often praises (especially Calvin). Rather his concerns are exegetical. He affirms that if Paul had been confronted with the problems of medieval Romanism, he would have given the same answers the Reformers gave. But he also argues that it is overly simplistic to completely identify 16 th century questions with 1 st century questions. The discussion over Wright must take place at the exegetical level or it simply skirts the real issues.

Note that we disagree with Wright on many points and are not afraid to say so (e.g., the ordination of women to the priesthood). We are not “Wright groupies.”

Wright says that Paul's central concern was not how we obtain personal salvation by faith versus good moral works. Rather, Wright thinks Paul was mostly concerned about how New Testament Christians identified themselves with the corporate, covenant community that was no longer exclusively Jewish. Wright says Paul is not so much arguing against gaining salvation by moral merit, but against the claim that in order to be a Christian one had to adopt the practices of Jewish exclusivity and identity in addition to faith in Christ.

This doesn’t quite strike me as true to the point. Wright does believe individual salvation is a concern. But that concern is contextualized by a broader concern, namely the Jew-Gentile relationship in the new messianic age. The Jew-Gentile relationship is not peripheral to the gospel, but internal to it, given that denial of free Gentile inclusion in the church, by faith alone and apart from submission to Torah, constituted a denial of the gospel (cf. Gal. 2:11ff). This is a rather prominent issue in Paul’s letters.

I think Wright would be unhappy to see salvation and ecclesiology played off against each other as Chapell does here (e.g., personal salvation vs. corporate identity).

Often mentioned in the same breath as the New Perspective are some persons identified with what they prefer to call the Federal Vision or Auburn Avenue Theology. Persons with PCA ties who are identified with these views include Doug Wilson, James Jordan, Steve Wilkins [who pastors the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Louisiana] and Rich Lusk. Although not all of these men are presently in the PCA, they are intelligent and prolific writers whose works are read by persons who are zealous about Reformed theology (and who often think the PCA is not Reformed enough). While appreciating aspects of the New Perspective on Paul, these PCA-related writers strongly insist that their main concerns differ from the New Perspective.

Thank you, Dr. Chapell, for the kind words.

This assessment of where we’re coming from is basically correct. I think all of us (whether we’re in the PCA or not) have a great deal of appreciation for the PCA and the way God has used the denomination to spread the Reformed faith in a winsome, attractive manner to people. We appreciate the PCA’s missional emphasis and the denomination’s emerging concern to minister to the poor not only in word but also in deed. These are reflective of my own concerns (see, e.g., my paper “Aiming at Shalom”).

However, I think it is a bit simplistic to say we don’t think the PCA is Reformed enough. In other ways, we might simultaneously argue that the PCA is over-Reformed (e.g., overly sectarian and cut off from the wider body of Christendom) and in need of more catholicity in spirit and practice. Any denomination faces the constant danger of only defining itself in terms of itself.

At any rate, the FV/AAT is not really an organized movement (as was, say, the PPLN) and never had any kind of set agenda to reform the PCA (or any other denomination). It’s just an informal, apolitical, “grass roots” group of friends who share a common cluster of theological concerns. Yes, there are books, conferences, and websites, but there has never been any formalized attempt to “push” these views on the church at large. There have never been resolutions sent up to General Assembly or any other procedural action. Most importantly, these views have never been set forth as new tests of orthodoxy. No one in the FV/AAT group has ever even hinted that he would desire to bring charges against another church officer who disagreed. No one associated with the FV/AAT group has called non-FV pastors and teachers heretics. The fiercest critics of the FV/AAT have made it publicly known they wish to drive FV/AAT men out of the PCA, but that attitude of intolerance is a one way street. FV/AAT men have no litigious bone to pick with the other side. They are only looking for a responsible, thoughtful discussion (such as Chapell provides here).

The Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue advocates (who think of themselves as returning to a more consistently Reformed theology) do not want to link their views to the New Perspective because of its apparent questioning of basic Reformed theology.

Which takes us back to my meta-concern: Chapell would have better served his audience if he took our desire here seriously and used some other label for the group of men and concerns that he wants to analyze. We are Reformed catholics, not NPP scholars.

Conversely, New Perspective leaders may little regard Federal Vision or Auburn Avenue Theology because of its tendency to narrow its concerns to Church sacrament issues or related Church doctrine. New Perspective leaders tend to think of themselves as being about the "Big Story" of the role of the covenant in redeeming creation. They tend to view Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue as being caught up in a "little story" of renegotiating Presbyterianism.

Why is this relevant? I don’t think any of us are all that concerned with what NPP scholars think about us. We’re not in those circles, we have very little personal interaction with them (except for perhaps Wright), and many NPP men have no regard for the church or orthodox Christianity anyway. Many NPP scholars in academia probably have little regard for Covenant Seminary – but who cares?

At any rate, it seems that Chapell may be confusing widely different concerns here. How is a desire to grapple with the “big story” of the Bible comparable with “renegotiating Presbyterianism”? Shouldn’t Presbyterians also desire to come to terms with the “big story” of Scripture as well – even if we would strongly disagree with the way many NPP scholars would frame it?

Despite these differences and objections, however, the two groups (New Perspective and Federal Vision/ Auburn Avenue) continue in common perception to be of the same cloth.

But this is a misperception (unfortunately perpetuated by Chapell’s paper). Again, common concerns and the borrowing of material do not make us “NPP” groupies of some sort. We’re Reformed theologians; the NPP is not a Reformed movement in any way, shape, or form. Borrowing insights from NPP scholars does not make one NPP anymore than borrowing from C. S. Lewis makes one Anglican, or borrowing from G. K. Chesterton makes one Romish, or borrowing from Louis Berkhof makes one Dutch Reformed. I am confident Chapell would recognize valid insights can be found across denominational lines, and that we can incorporate those insights into our own frameworks without giving up our own Reformed identity.

Reasons for this include the observation in PCA presbyteries that Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue Theology proponents are often those most conversant with and defensive of New Perspective ideas. The Federal Vision advocates have mined New Perspective writings for ideas supportive of their interests, and consequently the two groups have simultaneously emerged in PCA consciousness. These realities will probably continue to cause the two groups to be considered together -- despite the legitimate objections of their respective leaders. What may be less apparent to both groups' leaders, however, is the common cultural soil from which they emerge even as they point to their different root systems.

Everything here sounds good until he mentions “common cultural soil.” How can we share soil, but have “different root systems”? Isn’t it rather difficult for different roots to be in identical soil? I think this betrays a serious confusion about where both the NPP and the FV/AAT have come from. The first is a post-Holocaust reassessment of 1 st century Judaism. The second is an attempt to recover classical Calvinism in a Reformed, biblical theological framework. Wright may be a bridge, since he has one foot in the NPP camp and another foot in the Reformed tradition, but affection for Wright hardly makes one NPP. I know Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, etc. who like a lot of what Wright has to say. Does that mean all these people have lost their denominational identities and have suddenly been swept up into the NPP net? I think not. To say otherwise is probably overreaching.


From Where Did this New Perspective Come?

Biblical scholars tend only to look within their ranks over the last 30 years for the origins of the New Perspective and related movements, but the origins are much older. The philosophical currents behind the New Perspective on Paul began to flow early in the 20th century. At that time, the modern confidence in scientific objectivity was quickly eroding. New communication theories, the discovery of the subconscious, and rapid shifts in scientific theory were destroying claims that we could replace the "myths of religion" with "objective" scientific explanations of our world. We discovered that science was subject to its own subjectivity -- we see only what we are prepared to see and discover only what our present technology allows. As a consequence, Western philosophy plunged into a radical relativism that concluded that the only truth we can know is what we individually perceive.

The secular answer to this relativism that isolates everyone in his or her own personal truth was the claim that we could understand each other if we shared similar experiences. But, of course, the more we compared our lives, the more we discovered that our experiences -- even if we are in the same communities, churches, or families -- are radically different. The need for a common framework to understand others' experiences led to the conclusion that the way for us to have common understanding of our world is through shared stories. These stories are the shared experiences that allow us to understand our world with a common perspective. Thus, it was claimed that each culture frames its own meta-narratives that form the basis for interpreting individual experiences and that allow us to live in community.

Much of this is true, no doubt, but again, I sense a bit of confusion here. It is true that communities and cultures share common stories through which they understand the world. For postmodernists, this entails a radical relativism and a denial of any transcendent, trans-cultural metanarrative that includes and explains the whole of human existence. But we’re not postmodern relativists.

We reject the relativism that comes with postmodernism, at least in its popular and more extreme academic forms. We would say that Scripture does in fact give us the world’s one true meta-narrative, true in all times and places, and for all peoples. It is simply the story of creation-fall-Israel-Jesus-church-consummation. I’m confident that Chapell, as a covenant theologian, would not object to reading the Scriptures as a unified “story” and that he would agree that this story is absolutely true. I’m not sure Chapell has identified anything problematic with the FV/AAT group here. Surely people knew how to think in terms of stories before the rise of postmodernism (even if they were less self-conscious about it).

As these ideas worked their way into religious studies, much damage was done to orthodox faith. Modernist theologians in the early 20th century claimed that Scripture was myth that could be replaced by scientific understanding. But, when science lost its claim of objectivity, purveyors of "Neo-orthodoxy" claimed that the Bible could be understood existentially (i.e., individually) by the unique work of the Spirit in each person apart from the historical truth claims of the Bible.

Right. The Neo-Orthodox view of the Bible is reprehensible.

When this individualistic view of faith was eventually seen only to be feeding the interests and appetites of self, contemporary theologians turned to teaching that faith must be formed in community.

Right. But note this emphasis on community was only counterfeiting the teaching of the Bible and the Reformers, who also emphasized that the true faith is learned in community (e.g., Acts 2:42ff; Calvin’s Institutes book 4, which describes the church as the “mother” of believers and says we must be nurtured by her all our lives). There is really no such thing as a self-taught, self-made Christian. Otherwise, why do we have pastors or seminaries (cf. Eph. 4:11ff)? I’m confident that Chapell is not intending to endorse evangelicalism’s traditional over-emphasis on the individual over the church because I’ve heard him articulate concerns about that aspect of evangelicalism and counter it with a high ecclesiology. So I wonder: what’s the point? Does Chapell reject the view that faith is ordinarily formed and nurtured from within the community of faith? Does he want to give credence to the idea of a self-made, self-taught “Lone Ranger” Christian?

According to this line of thought, by its shared narratives each community forms the faith that creates its religion that, in turn, informs its worldview. Of course, this would mean that the Bible is not divine truth provided by heaven, but is simply a cultural product that provides narratives by which individuals can operate in community. In other words, Christianity supposedly is no different from every society that creates its own "truth" with its own stories -- there is no transcendent truth, all religions are human projections.

But, of course, this is not our view of the Bible. We are not relativists. We believe in the absolute authority of Scripture. We believe in plenary verbal inspiration. We believe WCF 1. This story Chapell is telling may be germane to the NPP, because many NPP scholars have woefully inadequate views of the Bible, but it has nothing to do with the FV/AAT.

Evangelical theologians have not followed all of these philosophical trends but have been influenced by them. In particular, Evangelicals have understood that faith, even Biblical faith, cannot and should not be understood only individualistically. We understand God's inspired and transcendent truth both because of His Spirit in us and because we are part of the body of Christ. The stories of the Bible are descriptions of experiences that enable Christians across all ages to understand the unchanging propositions of Scripture. And, God placed us in the church community not merely to satisfy our needs, but because the community -- as each member does his or her part -- helps us understand and apply the truth of Scripture. Neither faith nor true religion is formed by the community, but our expression of faith and understanding of religion are not possible apart from the Biblical community that includes the saints who have gone before us, as well as the saints that are around us.

I think this is exactly right. My only caveat: I do not think evangelicals have broken free from individualism quite as fully as Chapell seems to imply. But that’s a judgment call, and he would certainly know better than I would.

What does all of this have to do with the New Perspective on Paul? The New Perspective follows the trajectory of the community emphases that have so dominated the trends of contemporary philosophy. The New Perspective does not accept all the "faith-is-formed-in-community" philosophies, but alarm over the dissolution of church communities (and/or the impotence of the modern church) due to the assaults of secular culture has sensitized New Perspective folk to the corporate components of faith. New Perspective advocates look around and see those who call themselves Evangelical (and Reformed) little distinguished from secular culture on matters as diverse as promiscuity, abortion, divorce, stewardship, business ethics, care for the poor, racism, etc. At the same time, New Perspective folk look in Scripture and see Paul calling us to live as a covenant community that is distinct from the culture, united to Christ, united to each other, and transforming the world.

This is probably giving way too much credit to the NPP. I doubt NPP academics are as conservative as Chapell suggests here and I doubt their concerns are this wholesome across the board. They are probably concerned with racism and the poor, but I doubt the other concerns matter much to the typical NPP NT theologian.

Reacting to what they perceive as individualistic, autonomous, and "Baptistic/Revivalistic" (i.e., overly focused on producing personal professions of faith) influences on the Church,

Presbyterians have been divided over responses to revivalism since the eighteenth century. Our history is riddled with splits over these things (e.g., Old/New Side and Old/New School splits). Insofar as the FV/AAT opposes the influences of revivalism, it is in line with historic Reformed thought.

Now, to be sure revivalistic impulses were incorporated into the Reformed tradition, and thus have become part of our common Reformed heritage. Many would contend that the PCA basically belongs to the New Side/New School pro-revivalist end of the spectrum, and a very good case can be made for that as the overall tenor and drift of the denomination.

But critiquing revivalism as such is hardly anything new. We might disagree with the way pro-revivalist Reformed theologians frame their understanding of covenant children, but this was an ongoing debate long, long before the rise of the NPP/FV/AAT. There is no reason why it should not be considered an intramural Reformed discussion (albeit, a very important one to each new rising generation of covenant children).

New Perspective advocates believe they are calling the Church back to being the faith community that the Bible requires both by its doctrinal teaching and by the narratives that reveal its larger redemptive story. Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue proponents -- on a different but parallel path -- also view themselves as calling the Reformed church back to a more consistent expression of its doctrine that will also create a community more faithful to its covenantal distinctions.

“Different but parallel”? OK. But I wonder how much could this apply more generally to Covenant Seminary, or to the PCA. Shouldn’t we all be calling the church to a more consistent communal expression of its faith? Is Chapell denying the need to call the contemporary church to reform? I would think not. Isn’t it good to be “counter-cultural” when living in a secular host culture? Isn’t a lot of this common ground we all share? We all want lively, faithful churches that make the gospel attractive and winsome. We all desire to be missional and incarnational. We all desire to be communities permeated by the mercy, love, and grace of Jesus Christ. We all want to foster a strong sense of Christian identity and vocation in the world. It seems there’s a lot we could build on together here.


What Are Some Things the New Perspective Teaches?

Recognize again that there are many strains of the New Perspective. It is impossible to say what is taught uniformly by all those who are identified with this movement. Nevertheless, here are some of the major thoughts that are getting attention:

    When Paul describes the Jews' misuse of the law, he is not attacking the Jews for believing in a legalistic works righteousness such as was advocated by late Medieval Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholicism to which Luther reacted taught that persons gained merit by moral virtue and religious observance made possible by grace infused through the sacraments of the Church. The New Perspective folk (particularly those associated with N.T. Wright) claim that the Jews at the time of Jesus did not believe in this kind of legalism, but rather advocated the necessity of identifying with the covenant community by staying within its boundary markers that were defined by Jewish standards (e.g., circumcision, Sabbath observance, cleanliness laws). One was not gaining merit by these standards but rather was defining one's community identification and status.

    Paul, according to Wright's view, was not arguing against the necessity of community identification, but rather was arguing that the standards for this identification had changed for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. The new boundary markers for Jews and Gentiles in the covenant community are faith in Jesus Christ (marked by baptism in the New Testament church), separation from the secular society, and participation in the Lord's Supper. [Note: As we will observe, the New Perspective seems to create unnecessary dichotomies. Unquestionably, Paul at times challenges Jewish legalism based on ceremonial customs, but at other times he also challenges the assumption that one can be righteous before God on the basis of moral behavior. Yet, in either case, it is still true that one cannot be justified by keeping the law (of ceremony or of virtue) and, thus, Luther's understanding of Paul's principle that salvation is by grace through faith remains valid.]

There’s a lot to deal with here. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Note that Chapell says that in Wright’s view, 1 st century Jews did not believe in “this kind of [sixteenth century Romish] legalism” – which leaves open the possibility they believed in another kind of legalism. After all, insistence that someone identify with the covenant community in a particular way can easily become a form of legalism as well (e.g., fundamentalists who require certain lifestyle practices, such as no rock music or no makeup in order to be a part of the community).

The charge that the NPP reduces “works of the law” to ceremonial boundary markers is a highly debatable claim. Even if it turns out to be true, I do not know of any FV/AAT theologian who would make that exegetical move. We do not follow the NPP at this point. For my own part, I certainly see “works of the law” as a broader category, referring ultimately to everything that Torah required.

This is what I wrote about in my 2002 RRJ essay on Wright’s doctrine of justification (note especially the highlighted parts):

Again, the New Perspective teaches the basic problem with Judaism in Paul’s day, after the coming of Christ, was not that it was “self-righteous” or “legalistic,” but that it had an unrealized eschatology (that is, it clung to the old Torah-based ways of expressing fidelity to God which are now obsolete since the promised Messiah has come, opening covenant membership to the Gentiles). In other words, Paul’s critique of Israel is not, on the surface, what the Reformers took it to be – prideful, legalistic attempts at achieving self-salvation through meritorious “works of the law.” Paul, therefore, was not battling a form of proto-Pelagianism. Rather his opponents’ problem was that they wanted to turn back the clock of redemptive history; they were attempting to live “B.C.” in an “A.D.” world. However, what many New Perspective theologians fail to realize is that to continue to insist on circumcision, dietary laws, etc. as a means of relating to God after he has said these things are no longer pleasing to him and after they have filled their temporary redemptive-historical purpose is prideful and legalistic, considered from another angle. It is a form of self-salvation, since it demands the covenant blessing on one’s own terms, rather than submitting to God’s. So the old criticisms of Judaism are still there, but in nuanced form. Many New Perspective theologians have been too quick to draw an antithesis between their view of Paul’s argument and the Reformers’. Perhaps this is because they have failed to understand the basic nature of sin. Stott quips, “As I have read and pondered [Sanders’] books I have kept asking myself whether perhaps he knows more about Palestinian Judaism than he does about the human heart” (Romans, 29). See also Dan G. MacCartney, “No Grace Without Weakness,” Westminster Theological Journal Vol. 61, No. 1 (1-13). Nationalistic pride and exclusivism, as seen in first century Judaism, are just variant forms of the same basic self-righteous, legalistic stance that fallen human nature always assumes.

Jewish nationalism and medieval merit mongering were just two aspects of the same deadly disease. (Douglas Wilson’s Credenda article on the NPP made this same point.)

Also, Chapell’s way of framing the “boundary markers” issue appears quite superficial. It leaves out the eschatological dimension of the gospel that we are so careful to include (as biblical theologians), and partakes of the very church/salvation dichotomy we want to reject (in line with WCF 25.2). Divinely established sacramental “boundary markers” are not merely sociological.

Further, as I have argued elsewhere, many in the PCA have already, though perhaps unwittingly, affirmed the NPP’s “social” view of the gospel. The race and gospel relationship was a big deal in Paul’s day, and it is in ours as well (albeit, usually with different racial lines being drawn by sin and in need of erasure by Christ’s blood). I think we actually put ourselves at risk of repeating our mistakes of the past if we do not embrace the “social” dimension of Paul’s gospel. To emphasize this corporate, race-reconciling view of the gospel does not at all undermine or minimize the gospel’s message as a remedy for sin. It’s just to say that the gospel brings about reconciliation on the horizontal (Jew/Gentile) level, as well as in the vertical dimension (God/man). Indeed, Paul often seems to use these as analogies of one another. The removal of enmity in one direction symbolizes and embodies its erasure in another direction. See my essay, “The PCA and the NPP.”

Had Chapell (and others) interacted more with the two essays I’ve mentioned in this section, he might have had a better sense of what we’re about, what our appropriation of the NPP really entails, and why we think the gospel’s corporate side matters so much. These are certainly matters for further discussion. I don’t claim to have it all figured out and I admit that many NPP theologians are cryptic at best and very troubling at worst on many of these points.

    2. When Paul uses the term "faith" as the basis of our salvation, he is not using the term merely to refer to our trusting acknowledgment of the work of Christ in our behalf, but rather as a commitment to coming under the rule of Christ in the ordering of one's life. Thus, faith is really "faithfulness" (a semantic possibility in Greek) to one's identification with the community that honors Christ. The Gospel is not so much about gaining one's personal salvation as it is about bowing to the declaration that Christ's kingdom has come and identifying with the community that recognizes that "Jesus is Lord." New Perspective advocates (particularly those desiring Evangelical regard) strenuously insist that they believe that those who submit to Christ's lordship are those called into a saving relationship with God by His grace alone. Still, the movement's strong insistence on faith as community identification has caused much confusion (and misstatement) even within New Perspective ranks and, consequently, much suspicion from those zealous to protect the Reformation distinction of salvation by faith alone.

    Suspicions have been further revised by the New Perspective's questioning of historic ways in which the Reformers describe our justification. The Reformers described the grace of our salvation as involving Christ's righteousness being imputed (attributed) to us, and our sin being imputed to Him. Wright says this is an extra-Biblical notion. He says that God as a righteous judge pardons our sin, but that the removal of our sin (rather than the imputation of Christ's righteousness) is the Biblical basis of our justification before God. To most Reformed ears, this is a needless narrowing of the historic doctrine of justification that involves the pardoning of sin and the provision of Christ's righteousness. This narrowing undermines both the fullness of Christ's provision and the assurance of His resources for our spiritual destitution. New Perspective advocates want to heighten the Pauline emphasis on union with Christ, but since this union necessarily connotes that we are one with the Holy One, there should be no debate that His righteousness is ours by His grace.

Yes, faith is inseparable from faithfulness. But this is no different from saying that faith is inseparable from obedience/repentance/good works, or that justification is inseparable from sanctification. These points are taught clearly in our Westminster Confession (e.g., 14.2; 15.3; etc.). Nothing new or radical here.

Yes, our union with Christ “connotes that we are one with the Holy One” and so there should be “no debate that His righteousness is ours by His grace.” Wright himself would affirm all this, even if (for the sake of exegetical purity, in his mind), he unfolds the way in which Christ is our righteousness in terms of union rather than imputation. But this is just a matter of formulating the same glorious gospel truth in differing ways. Focusing on union with Christ can hardly minimize the adequacy of God’s provision for our needs as sinners. We all agree that Christ and Christ alone is our righteousness. Whether we receive that righteousness by means of a legal transfer or a legal union should really make no fundamental difference.

Consider an illustration I have used elsewhere: Suppose a woman in infinite debt is married by a man with infinite resources. He can either transfer his funds (“righteousness”) into her bank account to cover the debt (a.k.a., “imputation”), or he can make his own account a joint (“union”) account so that her debt is covered and she has a full line of credit. The net result is the same either way. But I would argue (on exegetical grounds that I will not detail here) that the second picture is closer to Paul’s own view. It situates the legal “imputation” (or “reckoning”) of righteousness within a covenantal (relational) context of union with Christ.

Some have balked at FV/AAT formulations of justification because they focus less on the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the law, and more on the resurrection status we share by virtue of our union with him. Again, this is simply two of ways of netting the same result. Why is it better to have Christ’s active obedience imputed than to share in his legal status as the resurrected/vindicated one? How is the former any more adequate than the latter? How is it a better gospel? What does the latter lack that the former includes?

I have been asking this question of FV/AAT critics for quite some time, but no answer has been forthcoming. In fact, a case could be made that the resurrection status includes implicitly the imputation of the active obedience anyway. I have argued this point in my essay, “Rome Won’t Have Me.”

    3. The New Testament sacraments are about more than remembering what Christ did in our behalf. [Note: some are anxious to protest that the sacramental issues being discussed in the PCA are not derivative of the New Perspective, but because the sacraments are identity markers of our covenant community the New Perspective inevitably becomes part of the present discussion.] By the sacraments believers identify with the covenant community that God has elected for salvation and glory. Thus, the sacraments not only establish one's identification with the community, they are also the means by which God conveys aspects of His grace to individuals. The sacraments establish the boundaries of the saved community and, as a consequence, identify those within the boundaries as possessors of God's pledge of salvation. The sacraments are not magical, and few of the New Perspective advocates (or related groups) are willing to say that the sacraments actually cause the grace they signify apart from faith. Still, these groups perceive grace as so integrally related to identification with the covenant community that its boundary signs (sacraments) are being treated with an importance unparalleled in recent generations of Reformed believers.

    In part, this heightened focus on sacraments as a means of including us in a worship community results from this generation's own longing for church and family solidarity in an increasingly broken society. Sadly, however, expressions of this heightened importance have been made with such zeal or relational clumsiness (perhaps because of our church's own relational struggles) that advocates have been perceived by unprepared ears as advocating a virtually Roman Catholic view of the sacraments. In the PCA, where polarities and distrust are yet a product of our painful withdrawal from mainline Presbyterianism, the consequence of this insensitivity (and occasional error) has been heightened suspicion rather than solidarity.

Chapell probably won’t be surprised if I attempt to claim the confessional high ground here. The WSC teaches that the sacraments are “effectual means of salvation.” Those who deny that the sacraments “confer” and “apply” the grace they signify are out of accord with the WCF and WSC (28.6; 91-92). Frankly, in comparing FV writers to those who oppose the FV, I see FV proponents using the Reformers and quoting from the Reformers far, far more often than the other side.

Based on what Chapell says here and below, I must conclude he is not entirely clear about what Rome teaches on the sacraments and/or what we teach. We have been extremely careful to avoid a Romish view of the sacraments. It is very easy to distinguish our view of efficacy from theirs. Rome says the sacrament is efficacious provided mortal sin does not block the flow of the substance of grace. Instead, we view grace as the personal favor and presence of God, and insist that sacramental efficacy is conditioned by a response of faith, not merely the absence of mortal sin. Further, whereas Rome’s baptism must be followed up by the sacrament of penance, we view baptism as promise of forgiveness to believers that covers post-baptismal sin as well. Baptism’s efficacy is not tied to the time of administration (as for Rome); instead it extends through the whole of life.

Why has this been so controversial? I realize that some misunderstanding is inevitable because so many evangelicals think any ascription of efficacy to the sacraments must be Romish. But this is a problem we must work to correct, no matter how difficult. Evangelical theology and practice is simply deficient at this point, if judged by the Reformers and the Westminster Standards. The reason a retrieval of a Calvinian/Westminsterian view of the sacraments is so difficult (and so necessary) is because we have drifted so far from our heritage on this point. (Note Chapell’s reference to “recent generations of Reformed believers.” He seems to acknowledge some shift has taken place.)

But Chapell’s worst fears are not really applicable here. Let me make this clear: No one engaged in the contemporary debate believes the sacraments are efficacious unto salvation apart from faith. NO ONE! This poor straw man has been pummeled to death repeatedly. I’m quite confident that no one holds or has held the baptismal position Chapell is arguing against. I may be misunderstanding Chapell, but I don’t think his criticisms pertain to any FV theologian I’m acquainted with.

Again, to spell things out: The sacraments offer Christ to faith because God has appointed them to this end and uses them in this fashion. No magic here -- just Christ and the Spirit working in accordance with the promises of the Word (WSC 91). Faith receives what God offers in the means of grace. There is much mystery involved, but this need not be as complicated as it’s been made out to be.

The sacraments also mark out the church, but this is exactly what WCF 27.1 teaches (“to put a visible difference . . .”). I’m not sure why anyone would want to cast a shadow of suspicion on the “boundary marker” function of the sacraments since it is one that has been acknowledged throughout the Reformed tradition. The sacraments are almost always included in Reformed lists of the “marks” of the church. In this regard, the sacraments are important in cultivating a sense of Christian identity and assurance.

    4. The baptism of children has become a particular point of tension because the sacramental emphasis discussed above also means greater significance is being attributed to this rite than has been the case in typical expressions of American Presbyterianism. By their baptism children are identified with the Christian community. They, too, come within the boundary markers of the covenant community by the administration of the sacrament. Thus, some who are advocates of the New Perspective -- particularly from the Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue groups -- say that baptism "makes a child a Christian." By this the kind of wording New Perspective advocates do not typically (there are exceptions) mean that the child is automatically made regenerate by the baptism, but rather that the baptism gives the child identification with the covenant community. What this means precisely is hotly debated and variously expressed. For instance, some have argued that baptism is so conclusive a sacrament that it is improper for a person who was baptized as a child to speak of a later conversion by saying something like, "I became a Christian in college." The argument is made that the person became a Christian (i.e., was identified with the covenant community) in his infant baptism, and simply confirmed his Christian status as a young adult.

    So much confusion is being created by this terminology that New Perspective advocates are finding themselves pressed very hard to define the spiritual status of the baptized child, the benefits that are actually conferred by the baptism, the relation of the baptism to the parents' profession of faith, the nature of the child's (and/or the parents') profession, and even the nature of regeneration. This has led some ministers to make statements before presbyteries that sound almost indistinguishable from the Roman Catholic view of baptismal regeneration.

I’m not sure what “confusion” Chapell is referring to, nor is this an issue that has just cropped up in the last few years. I think our views on covenant children are quite clear. Covenant children are members of the visible church in the same way as any other professor of the faith, as far as we are concerned. They are “Christians” in the only sense that fallible, finite creatures can say that anyone is a Christian. We don’t know God’s decree nor can we peer into people’s hearts. Our judgments about who is a Christian are always subject to revision. We simply trust (not presume!) what God’s word says about covenant children as a class: God is their God (Gen. 17) and they are members of Christ’s kingdom (Mt. 19). That view may be wrong, but it isn’t intrinsically confusing. And it may be confusing to anti-FV people who are accustomed to a different terminology, but I have not heard of it causing confusion in any FV congregation.

Debates over the status of baptized children in American Reformed theology run all the way back to mid-seventeenth century New England Congregationalism, when the church first attempted to base membership on subjective experience or conversion event rather than objective covenant markers, including profession (or covenant promise in the case of children), outward obedience, and baptism. It was no longer enough to profess faith; one had to profess a conversion experience. It should be noted that this movement in the New England churches was a decisive move away from older varieties of Calvinism, and eventually led to the Halfway Covenant, an American innovation we are still grappling with in our churches.

Calvin believed our children grow up in the covenant, already possessing the first sparks of faith and repentance even in the womb. While Calvin was not a paedocommunionist, as many FV proponents are, he was not a revivalist either. He did not expect covenant children to undergo a dramatic conversion experience. Rather, he believed that in a very organic fashion, they would grow up into a mature profession of the faith they’d been exercising all along.

Lewis Schenck’s book on covenant succession (recently reprinted by P & R) as well Rob Rayburn’s fine paper on covenant succession (available here: http://www.faithtacoma.org/covenant.htm) are cogent arguments for the traditional Calvinistic view and I will not reiterate them here.

[Important caveat: The FV view does have a different nuance than that set forth by Schenck and Rayburn, though the practical difference is almost nil. Schenck and Rayburn emphasize that elect covenant children are typically regenerate from the womb. They are baptized because they are presumed regenerate and because the substance of the covenant already belongs to them. Baptism is not so much a transition, but a ratification, confirming an already existing Spiritual status. The FV writers have tended to emphasize that baptism itself is a decisive point of transition, and have suggested that the Bible’s robust baptismal language must be accepted at face value. Personally, I've concluded that those who emphasize a relationship with God from the womb need to find a way to do justice to the Bible's strong language about baptism (e.g., Rom. 6:1ff), and those who emphasize baptism as a point of transition still need to do justice to what the Bible says about covenant children even in the womb (e.g., Ps. 22:9-10). See my short paper on the complexities in Calvin’s view. One solution is see “regeneration” (in Calvin’s sense of the term, as “new life in the covenant,” rather than in the Dordtian/Westminsterian sense of a “permanently changed heart”) as a process, begun in the womb by the Spirit and then completed in some definitive sense at baptism. Of course, this makes the “new birth” analogous to “natural birth” (or the “old birth”) which is a process as well (as my wife can certainly attest!). I don't see how either the “Rayburn position” or the “baptismal transition” position can be held in a “hard” sense. There has to be some nuancing to deal with the biblical data. Of course, both of these positions agree that very young covenant children belong to God and have a faith-based relationship with him, and therefore they are opposed to the revivalistic and Southern Presbyterian views of covenant children as “outside the pale” or “covenant vipers in diapers,” until conversion at a later age.]

I’m happy for this intramural Reformed debate to continue. There have been, and will continue to be, a wide variety of positions on the status and nature of covenant children within Presbyterian circles. But can justify acting as if those who believe covenant children can and should grow up Christian (never knowing a day when they did not trust God) hold to an odd or previously unknown view. Chapell has men on his own seminary faculty who would argue this way (cf. C. John Collins, “Psalm 139:14: ‘Fearfully and Wonderfully Made’?” Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review, 25/2 (Fall 1999), 115-120). The idea that covenant children need to reach an “age of accountability” (or whatever it may be called) and then have a conversion experience is simply not the classic Reformed view. It might be right, but if so, then Luther, Calvin, Bucer, etc. were all wrong on this point. Let’s be honest about who’s really in agreement with our Reformed fathers on this point.

The comment above about a covenant child getting converted in college is so lacking in any context, it’s impossible to analyze one way or the other. But surely such an event should not be normative. Children who have grown up in godly homes and faithful churches should not need to wait until they are 18 years old to come to know the Lord in a saving way. That may be what happens in the cases of some covenant children, but biblically speaking, it would be anomaly (cf. Ps. 22; 71; Mt. 18:1-14; 1 Tim. 3:14ff; etc.).

The claim that we sound indistinguishable from Roman Catholics on baptism is utterly false. We have carefully distinguished our view of baptismal efficacy from Rome’s on numerous occasions. The sheer length of our papers is good prima facie evidence that we are making nuances and qualifications.

We should at least consider another cause of the confusion over the FV: Perhaps qualifications and explanations have been offered by FV/AAT men, but simply not heard by the critics! For an example of this, see, e.g., my paper, “Do I Believe in Baptismal Regeneration?”, particularly Appendix 2. My position on a number of issues continues to develop, but my basic stance on baptismal efficacy has not changed one whit since my first published essay, “Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present, and Future.” The problem is not that we have been moving targets. The problem is that the actual position has rarely been engaged. In my opinion (if I may dare to offer it), the transmission signal is reasonably clear; the problem is with receivers tuned only to revivalistic frequencies.

I hope my comments here are not too harsh. I do not intend to be harsh. Much of what I’m saying here is not directed so much against Chapell as against other FV critics. It is very difficult to engage in self-defense without coming across in a rather brash way. My desire is to be humble and charitable. But I also feel the need to speak with some firmness to these issues because I think Chapell’s paper, despite its warm tone, could very possibly perpetuate another cycle of misunderstandings. It lacks the precision needed to clarify the issues.

Click here to go to Part 2.